Ahhh, summer. After a grueling school year topped off by final exams, it’s finally time to relax with a fluffy beach read or a campy graphic novel. But wait! Your inbox has been infiltrated by a mile-long list of school reading in preparation for English class next year. Hemingway? Camus? The Brontë Sisters? Somehow, none of those seem like the mind-numbing brain candy you crave. But they can still be fun! Read our summaries below to get a grip on the stories before you start reading, order what you need, and visit our friends at SparkNotes to help you fully understand what’s behind the words on the page. Don’t worry, figgies, we gotchu.
Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain: Tommy paints a fence, falls in love with a girl named Becky Thatcher, witnesses a murder, becomes a pirate, attends his own funeral, and narrowly escapes starving to death in a cave. Fairly easy to understand, and a classic kids’ read – you’ll love it. Plus, Adventures of Tom Sawyer is available FREE online!
Favorite Quote: “Say, Tom, let me whitewash a little.”
Having trouble? SparkNotes to the rescue!
Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest J. Gaines: This isn’t actually an autobiography – it’s a fictional account of an 110 year old African-American woman living in the South who was born into slavery at the end of the Civil War and lived through the Civil Rights movement. It is a veritable who’s who of African-American history, with cameos by Frederick Douglas, Booker T. Washington, and Rosa Parks, to name just a few. A sweeping epic to sweep you through long summer days.
Favorite Quote: “Anytime a child is born, the old people look in his face and ask him if he’s the One.” – See? Just like The Matrix.
And if you need a hand, look at the SparkNotes.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens: So this crazy woman was left at the altar on her wedding day and now she hangs out in the same wedding dress she’s been wearing for like 30 years and plots to ruin the lives of others. And Pip stumbles into her sadistic spider web and falls in love with her beautiful ward Estella and there’s a convict and it’s just craaaaazy. This is an awesome book, although it is a tough read. You could opt to watch the (very bad) movie modernization starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke, but I would say give the Dickens version a shot.
Favorite Quote: “I never had one hour’s happiness in her society, and yet my mind all round the four-and-twenty hours was harping on the happiness of having her with me unto death.”
Make use of the SparkNotes!
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë: Jane Eyre is a put-upon little orphan who grows up to become a governess to the adorable Adèle, ward of the dark, brooding, sexy Mr. Rochester. Jane and Rochester hit it off and plan to get married, and everything’s great, except that Mr. Rochester is – oops! – hiding his crazed first wife in the attic. So Jane flees because she’s not really into that and comes this close to marrying her cousin, but then she and Rochester sort through the attic drama and it’s really fine in the end. Read it if you like Victorian Gothic, and when you finish reading you can watch the recent film adaptation starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender.
Favorite Quote: “’Ere I had finished this reply, my soul began to expand, to exult, with the strangest sense of freedom, of triumph, I ever felt. It seemed as if an invisible bond had burst, and that I had struggled out into unhoped-for liberty. . . .” – that feisty Jane!
The Pearl by John Steinbeck: No one does the metaphor better than John Steinbeck. Reading this super skinny parable depicting the corruption that accompanies sudden wealth is like watching E! Investigates: The Curse of the Lotto. The same way your knock-off Prada bag is just like Mary-Kate Olsen’s $9,000 tote.
Favorite Quote: “But the pearls were accidents, and the finding of one was luck, a little pat on the back by God or the gods or both.”
The SparkNotes are necessary for this one – lots of themes and symbols and all.